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Vitamin C - Health Benefits, Deficiency & Best Food Sources of Vitamin C

Vitamin C keeps gums and teeth healthy (Image via Unsplash/engin akyurt)
Vitamin C keeps gums and teeth healthy. (Image via Unsplash/engin akyurt)

Vitamin C, or ascorbic acid, is a water-soluble vitamin known to prevent scurvy, a disease that killed around two million sailors between 1500 and 1800.

It plays a role in controlling infections and healing wounds and is a powerful antioxidant that can fight harmful oxidative free radicals. Vitamin C also helps in various metabolic processes in the body, including endocrine and neuronal functions.

What are the health benefits of vitamin C, and how much of it does the body need? In this article, we will discuss how vitamin C impacts health and how to prevent its deficiency.


Health Benefits of Vitamin C

Ascorbic acid is required to make collagen. which is a connective tissue required for various structures in the body. Collagen prevents premature aging and keeps the skin glowing and tight.

It's also crucial for the body’s immune system, as it stimulates the activity of white blood cells, which fight harmful pathogens. It improves the absorption of non-heme iron or the iron present in non-animal sources such as green leafy vegetables too.

There is an association between the consumption of ascorbic acid-rich fruits and vegetables and the decreased risk of contracting cataract. It's a powerful antioxidant that can fight free radicals, which are known to cause cellular damage and oxidative stress. This stress can cause inflammation and premature aging.

Vitamin C can be destroyed by heat and light. High cooking temperatures can destroy the vitamin. It can also be lost in the water in which the food items are washed, boiled or cooked. Quick cooking methods can preserve the vitamin.


Deficiency Symptoms

Vitamin C keeps the gums healthy. (Image via Unsplash/Rudi Fargo)
Vitamin C keeps the gums healthy. (Image via Unsplash/Rudi Fargo)

There are several symptoms of deficiency in Vitamin C, some of which are severe as well. They are as follows:

  • Severe joint pain and swelling.
  • Formation of small acne-like bumps on the arms, thighs and elsewhere.
  • Small, bright red spots to appear around the hair follicles.
  • Spoon-shaped fingernails and red lines or spots underneath the nail.
  • May cause dry, sun-damaged skin.
  • Can weaken blood vessels, causing easy bruising and bleeding.
  • Can cause wounds to heal more slowly.
  • Bad bone health with increased risk of developing weak and brittle bones.
  • Severe deficiency can lead to tooth loss.
  • Red, swollen, bleeding gums.
  • Increased risk of infection, while severe deficiency may cause death from such infectious diseases.
  • Iron deficiency anemia by reducing non-heme iron absorption from plant-based foods.
  • Fatigue and poor mood.
  • Increased risk of chronic illnesses, including heart disease and diabetes.
  • Oxidative stress and cell damage.

Scurvy is a hallmark disease of severe vitamin C deficiency, though seen rarely nowadays. Severe deficiency of the vitamin is also likely to lead to heart failure. Deficiency is relatively rare in developed countries but still affects more than 1 in 20 people, affecting more people in developing countries.

Research has found a link between low intake of vitamin C and excess body fat but further research is required to prove fat loss or weight loss benefits.


Food Sources of Vitamin C

A Vitamin for Healthy Hair (Image via Unsplash/Kyle Smith)
A Vitamin for Healthy Hair (Image via Unsplash/Kyle Smith)

The best food sources of vitamin C include guava, lemon, strawberry, kiwifruit, blackcurrants, lychee, papaya, broccoli, peppers and parsley.

As the body cannot store large amounts of the vitamin, it's recommended to eat fresh fruits and vegetables rich in ascorbic acid every day. Supplementation with vitamin C is not toxic but may cause minor side effects.

As per guidelines, adults aged 19 to 64 need about 40 mg of vitamin C a day. However, too much of that could be harmful and may cause abdominal cramps, diarrhea and nausea, as well as increase the risk of deposition of oxalate kidney stones.

Vitamin C breaks down when exposed to heat, so raw fruits and vegetables are better than cooked ones.


Takeaway

Fruits and vegetables are rich in ascorbic acid. (Image via Unsplash/Anna Pelzer)
Fruits and vegetables are rich in ascorbic acid. (Image via Unsplash/Anna Pelzer)

Vitamin C is one of the body’s most important water-soluble nutrients. It also acts as an antioxidant and helps prevent damage to cells by fighting oxidative free radicals from the environment and food components, which can cause premature aging and dull skin.

Free radicals can also cause inflammation. Low intakes of vitamin C is responsible for higher levels of inflammation and oxidative stress along with an increased risk of heart disease.

Vitamin C is found in fruits and vegetables, so their daily consumption can prevent deficiency symptoms. Supplementation should only be taken in case of severe deficiency and as per the prescription of a certified health professional.

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Edited by Bhargav
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